In summary

Questions swirl around California ventilator supply. Assembly speaker adjusts to life in an empty Capitol. Health care workers may get hotel discounts.

Good morning, California. It’s Friday, April 10.

Newsom defends sending vents to other states

Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019. Photo by Hector Amezcua for CalMatters

OK, so what’s going on with California’s ventilator supply?

California hospitals are using around 32% of their ventilators, with 8,000 remaining unused, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday in the latest development in a saga that’s been giving many of us whiplash. Two weeks ago, the state said it was rushing to procure 5,000 ventilators. Monday, Newsom sent 500 ventilators to other states. Wednesday, surprised and frustrated Riverside County officials said the state recently denied their request for 500 ventilators. Meanwhile, Santa Clara County is offering $1,000 for each ventilator it receives.

Newsom defended his decisions Thursday. He pointed out that the state has additional ventilators on top of those in hospitals, it is procuring and refurbishing more, and it will get back those that were lent.

  • Newsom: “Some people have expressed some concern about California’s willingness to lend a hand. … But we can’t just sit on assets when we can save lives and help our fellow Americans. I just want to clear up any anxiety in that space or any ambiguity or any misinformation, to be candid with you.”

The governor also said Thursday that 1,132 Californians were being treated for COVID-19 in intensive care units, a 1.9% decrease from the day before. That’s the first drop the state has reported. (During the same period of time, the number of hospitalizations went up 4.1%, and there were 50 deaths.)

  • Newsom: “Some good news on those ICU numbers, but again, just one day, one point of data. We’ll check in tomorrow … to see if those numbers continue to see positive signs.”

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The Bottom Line: As of 8 p.m. Thursday night, California had 20,116 confirmed coronavirus cases and 543 deaths from the virus, according to a Los Angeles Times tracker. (These numbers are different from those of the state Department of Public Health, which are updated less often.)

Also: CalMatters is tracking, by county, positive and suspected cases of COVID-19 patients hospitalized throughout the state. We’re also tracking the state’s daily actions in response to coronavirus.

Assembly Speaker Rendon on empty Capitol, architecture and Nutella

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in his office during shutdown. Photo courtesy Speaker’s Office

It’s so unusual to be working in a near-empty state Capitol that Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told me he recently stopped and took a picture of the rotunda.

It wasn’t just the emptiness that struck him. As an architecture buff, he was also likely struck by its beauty. Rendon’s usual nightly pleasure reading is about “art and art history” and “aesthetic theory relating to architecture,” the subject of his PhD dissertation. 

“I’m pretty religious about that” nightly reading, he told me during a recent phone call from his Capitol office. Lately, though, he’s turned to a lighter reading topic — American intellectual history — with Terry Cooney’s Balancing Acts: American Thought and Culture in the 1930s.

Apart from the slight shift in reading material, the shutdown hasn’t changed Rendon’s routine much. He still goes for a run every morning, as he has since middle school, before taking his 7-month-old daughter to daycare and heading to his office in the vacant Capitol building.  

“The biggest difference between this year and last year for me … it’s having a child,” Rendon said. Take that, coronavirus. 

These days, Rendon and his wife are mostly cooking at home, though that’s not unusual for them either. He has, however, gotten creative with Nutella. 

“My sister-in-law baked a cake that was really good but didn’t have any frosting. So I put some Nutella on top of it,” he said. “Then I started experimenting and putting Nutella on everything in our fridge and everything in our cabinets. That was a lot of fun. You should try it with some sourdough cookies. It’s spectacular.” 

“Sourdough cookies? Is that a thing? I didn’t even know about that,” I said, laughing. 

He laughed too. “Shortbread cookies, actually! Shortbread cookies. Not sourdough cookies! I don’t know what the hell that is.”

Other stories you should know

1. How California is tackling coronavirus, one hotel room at a time

Cassie Gamboa, left, and Robert Romo, right, go into their new hotel room with Edwin Aviles, of Union Station Homeless Services, on April 7. Photo by Michael Owen Baker courtesy of Los Angeles County

Starting today, California health care workers may qualify for discounted hotel rooms so they don’t have to worry about long commutes or exposing their families to the virus, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. More than 150 hotels are participating in the program, and many lower-wage workers will receive full reimbursements.

Meanwhile, the state has also moved around 2,000 homeless Californians who are at high risk or who have tested positive for coronavirus into hotel and motel rooms. But plenty of questions remain. Among them: When this ends, will these Californians end up back on the street? CalMatters’ Matt Levin has more.

2. Not all distance learning programs created equal

Melina, 8, and her brother Adrian, 9, play Minecraft. With limited classwork provided by their district, the Torres kids have plenty of time for video games. Photo courtesy of Raul Torres

After the coronavirus pandemic closed down California campuses, wealthier school districts appear to be weathering the transition to distance learning with greater ease than poorer districts, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports. Two districts, Redondo Beach and Hawthorne, are just five miles apart, but Redondo Beach, a wealthier district, started its distance learning program March 18, while Hawthorne’s, in a working-class community, won’t start until April 21.

  • In Hawthorne, Raul Torres spends five hours a day with his second-grade daughter and fourth-grade son completing paper packets. He’s heard little from their teachers in the four weeks after schools physically closed. “It’s been challenging because, obviously, I’m not a teacher,” Torres said.

3. State report: Four things to help unemployed residents

A man walks past a boarded-up shop in San Francisco on April 7. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

With around 2.3 million Californians filing for unemployment insurance since March 12, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s office on Thursday released a report outlining four possible actions the state could take to expand assistance to unemployed workers.

  • Increase benefits. The state could give all unemployed workers the maximum weekly benefit of $450. (Current range is $40 to $450.)
  • Add state $$ on top of federal $$. Under the federal coronavirus relief bill, unemployed workers get $600 weekly, plus state benefits. California could add $100 more per week.
  • Build an unemployment insurance program for ineligible workers. These include recent college graduates, newly self-employed workers and undocumented immigrants.
  • Temporarily allow ineligible workers to access state disability insurance. This allows workers to take leave while receiving a portion of their normal wages. The SDI fund has $3 billion in reserves.

CalMatters commentary

State and local governments spearhead coronavirus response: Our key lesson from the coronavirus crisis is that federalism really works. State and local officials have stepped in to fill the void left by presidential inaction, argue Al Sokolow, a retired UC Davis faculty member, and Peter M. Detwiler, longtime staffer of the State Senate Local Government Committee.

Coronavirus and budget cuts: For many California school districts, the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic hardship may trigger budget cuts, which will likely mean layoffs and reductions in critical student services, writes Heather Hough, executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education.

Other things worth your time

Video: How to take care of your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. // CalMatters

Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White plans to host a mixed martial arts showcase on tribal land in California on April 18. Will it be able to go forward? // The New York Times

Rural California hoped to be sheltered from coronavirus. But now there’s an outbreak in Tulare County. // The Los Angeles Times

Guarded optimism over coronavirus in San Francisco, but officials warn everyone still needs to shelter in place. // The Los Angeles Times

Letter from Los Angeles: Sheltering in place in Southern California. // The New Yorker

Everyone’s watching California’s wildlife — just online. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Before Bernie Sanders’ California supporters commit to Joe Biden, they want to see him make some changes. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Who will be the inaugural Sacramento Area Porch Prom Queen and King? Yes, you read that right. // The Sacramento Bee

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See you Monday.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...